Tuesday June 23rd, 2009

WTHIGOW James Blake? Another first-round loss in ignominious fashion. Here's a guy who, just a year ago, was looking like he might challenge for Slams. Now it's a challenge for him not to get bounced in straights in Round 1. -- Robin Smith, Detroit

• We've made no secret of our personal fondness for Blake. But there's no sugar-coating the current state of his game. We didn't expect much on clay. But to lose in straight sets in the first round of Wimbledon? Not good. OK, most of his strong results came in lesser events, but still, Blake was a top-four player not all that long ago. He's even beaten Roger Federer within the last calendar year. A lot of you appear to be personally offended by Blake. "Overhyped." "Media creation." "Typical American style over substance." But I don't quite get how you can delight in the professional struggles of a genuinely good person.

We've talked before about Blake's sensitivities, about how his mental game doesn't become an otherwise bright guy. But how about this theory: I wonder if Blake isn't cursed by his backstory. Here is a guy who did not grow up as a coddled prodigy or a hot prospect. Even in his mid-teens, he was perceived as little more than a good college player. When Blake made The Show, he took nothing for granted. He was the "accidental pro," the guy who was thrilled simply to be playing tennis for a living -- a lucrative one at that. And while that I'm-playing-with-house-money mentality is great in the beginning, I wonder if it doesn't have its drawbacks in the end. Andy Roddick's game goes "off the boil" and there is some desperation. He switches coaches. He changes his routine. He fights like hell to extricate himself from a slump. With Blake, you don't get this sense of urgency. One wonders if he isn't saying -- subconsciously even -- "I never expected to be here anyway, so how upset can I be?"

I remember talking to Lindsay Davenport about this once. Like Blake, she was never tipped for greatness (the anti-Jennifer Capriati) and, initially, wasn't particularly upset by defeat since she never expected to be in the top 20 anyway. After a while, she learned to "update" her goals. It's late in the game, but maybe Blake needs to do the same.

Something is wrong when I have to turn the TV down during certain players' matches because of the grunting. I don't want to hear it and I don't want my 11-year-old tennis player hearing it. Sponsors should be concerned when the TVs are muted and the fans in the stands start walking out -- that is what I will do at the Cincy tournament if I hear it. They must stop this! It's ugly and it makes women's tennis look like a joke to non-tennis folks. Is there an online petition to "voice" fans' displeasure. Thanks. -- Ginger, Reston, Va.

• Granted, there's not a pro-grunting contingent, but I am impressed/surprised by how many of you have expressed strong negative feelings here. (My take: Yes, grunting is regrettable and unpleasant, but tennis has more urgent issues in need of addressing.) But a) if I'm in the WTA, I'm starting to get concerned. This is no time to alienate the base. And b) if you feel strongly, sure, start a Facebook group and protest. That is, make like a WTA player mid-rally and make yourself heard!

John Isner's Wikipedia entry says he's got mononucleosis. What the heck? We all know shoulders, knees, elbows and hips are at risk on the court. Do we have to add mono to the list of "common" tennis ailments? -- Andrew, New York, N.Y.

• Let me throw this out there: Obviously, the relentlessly physical nature of tennis contributes to the endless and varied injuries we witness week to week. What about the relentless travel? Any business traveler knows that long flights, jet lag and airport/hotel cuisine do a number on your immune system. I wonder if some of the ailments and sickness aren't simply a consequence of having such a far-flung circuit.

I have been thinking: Why are organizations always either enforcing or prohibiting things when there are more creative ways to deal with something? Banning players because they have put $5 bets on a few matches is ridiculous. I was at some minor tournament recently and could watch firsthand how players are bored through most of the afternoon while waiting for their match to start. I can understand they do some betting or blogging just to pass time. Simple solution: Allow players to bet on tennis matches up to certain amount, and require their bets be made public on some special page (or Twitter) set up for it. -- D.P., London

• I agree that it's silly to take aim at journeymen making penny-ante bets. But I'm thinking that encouraging the players to gamble is probably not the best idea. If they have inside information and bet $5, what's to prevent someone else from betting $50,000? This reminds me of the suggestion someone (I assume facetiously) served up last year: permit match-fixing, thereby scaring off the potential gamblers. (In other words, if you knew a sporting event was potentially crooked, you wouldn't put down your money.)

On a serious note, this problem isn't going away anytime soon. The good news is that, unlike performance-enhancing drugs, the detection technology actually seems to be pretty equal to the cheating technology.

Comment: Can you tell Mark Philippoussis, or your publisher, that I would pay $23 (not $24, like I paid for Strokes of Genius) for a dishy biography on an ATP pro who played against Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer, and lived like Vinny Chase? My goodness! A guy with this story shouldn't have money problems. Do we need to start a petition? -- Megan Fernandez, Indianapolis

• So true. If an Aussie publisher was interested in the Scott Draper story, you'd think there'd be a market for a Philippoussis tell-all. (Even a tell-some.) Is there a "Scud Boswell" out there?

Does Federer hang out at 50 Cent's crib? Seriously, that gold bag hurts my eyes. It just sends a bad vibe saying, I am Fed, and you aren't. -- Deepak, Ann Arbor, Mich.

• The man can play tennis, but he could stand to work on his accessorizing.

• Feedback welcome on this in-house podcast.

• In case you missed it, here's Part 4 of the global sports forum.

• Was just handed a copy of Donald Dell's forthcoming book, Never Make the First Offer. At some point, remind me to tell you guys my Donald Dell story.

• A fond farewell to Kat Anderson, who will be leaving her position at the International Tennis Hall of Fame after 10 years.

Novak Djokovic will play Marat Safin in an Aug. 6 exhibition at the Asheville Civic Center in North Carolina. A portion of the proceeds from Grand Slam Asheville will benefit Mission Children's Hospital. For information on the VIP reception, contact Alicia Kramer at (404) 433-1088. Click here for more information.

Carolyn Brown of Conway, Ark., offers long-lost siblings: Jeremy Scahill and Robin Soderling.

Enjoy Day 3!

To order a copy of Jon Wertheim's new book, Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, click here.

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